Picking a Best XI for Every Barcelona Decade Since the 1960s

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IMarch 9, 2014

Johan Cruyff is an obvious choice for the team of the 1970s
Johan Cruyff is an obvious choice for the team of the 1970sCESAR RANGEL/Associated Press

When you sit down to consider the amount of footballing talent that has passed through Barcelona over the years, it really is quite something.

Ballon D'Or winners, World Cup winners. The Dutch, Brazilians and Argentinians. Students of the game that changed our outlook on the game.

Some truly world class exponents have regularly peppered squads across the decades.

In truth, the lure of the Catalan club has always been very seductive and an easy sell.

It's rich heritage and reputation for attacking and inventive football are just a couple of reasons why some of the best players to have ever graced a football pitch have done so in Blaugrana. 

To pick a best XI from each of the last six decades is a lot harder than it sounds when you have such a pool of talent to pick from.

With only 11 slots to fill, there will invariably be players that are missing from this list for whom you could make a fairly sound argument to be included.

Let's see who made the cut... 

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Barcelona 1960s XI
Barcelona 1960s XIjasonpettigrove

Ladislao Kubala was widely acknowledged as being the first Barcelona superstar.

The Hungarian enjoyed much success during a golden era in the 1950s but a succession of injuries saw his form begin to wane. 

Luckily for Barca however, he enjoyed something of a renaissance during the early 1960s to cement his place as one of the greats. FCBarcelona.com described him as having:

"Phenomenal physique, technical ability, extraordinary vision of play and by the fact he was a free kick maestro and a leader on pitch."

His memory still lives on with a statue erected in his honour directly outside the main entrance to Camp Nou.

Kubala's statue at Camp Nou
Kubala's statue at Camp NouDavid Ramos/Getty Images

Prolific Brazilian Evaristo gets the nod alongside Kubala, a phenomenal 70 goals in 114 appearances cementing his place.

Sat just behind on the left side of midfield is the only Spanish player to ever win the Ballon D'Or.

Luis Suarez picking up the honour in 1960 ahead of such greats as Ferenc Puskas, Lev Yashin and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Perhaps his defining Barca moment came in 1961.

In front of 84,000 baiting Los Blancos supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu, he coolly dispatched an 88th-minute penalty to sneak a draw in the first round (first leg) of the European Cup.

A 2-1 win at the Camp Nou in the return would see Barca knock Real Madrid out of a competition that they had won every year since it's inception in 1955.

Barca fans won't want reminding that Suarez's sale came just five days before the 1961 European Cup final, which they lost to Benfica.

Eladio, Julio Cesar Benitez and Gallego were mainstays of the team throughout the 1960s, and they are easy picks.

As is Joan Segarra, captain of the Barca of the "Five Cups" during the fifties and still going strong in the next decade.

Another captain, Josep Fuste, spent 10 relatively successful years at the club, a victory over Real Madrid in the Copa De Generalissimo in 1968 a particular highlight of his 197 appearances.

Joaquim Rife started as a striker for Barca, but he eventually converted to an attack-minded defender, via a stint in midfield.

A true utility player, Rife amassed 535 appearances, per FCBarcelona.com, at Camp Nou before hanging up his boots and becoming a member of the coaching team.

Five-time winner of the Zamora trophy, Antoni Ramallets was one of the best goalkeepers ever to wear the Blaugrana. No other keeper in the era comes close to matching his excellence between the posts.


Barcelona 1970s XI
Barcelona 1970s XIjasonpettigrove

This decade wasn't all about Johan Cruyff but it's entirely fair to say he left his imprint all over Catalonia.

After the Dutchman signed in 1973, he inspired Barcelona to their first La Liga title in 14 years. The part he played in a 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, and his "impossible" goal, are still talked about to this day.

The latter was so called because the ball was already well wide of goal and heading out of play until Cruyff managed to swivel in mid air, take the ball at head height with his right foot, stretching as he did so, and guide it into the net.

He would, of course, go on to shape Barcelona's future forever with the "Dream Team," but Cruyff's love affair and influence began well before.

Migeuli, or Tarzan as he was affectionately known, was the epitome of a "hard as nails" defender. Think Carles Puyol and then some.

In the 1978-79 European Cup Winners Cup Final, he even played part of extra time against Fortuna Dusseldorf with a broken collarbone!

Hans Krankl could genuinely be described as the best Austrian to have ever played football. Barcelona signed him at the height of his powers in 1978 and he certainly repaid their faith with 34 goals in 46 games and a Pichichi trophy in his first season.

Pepe Reina's dad Miguel was first choice goalkeeper during the early part of the decade and held the record for the amount of minutes without conceding a goal (824), until it was surpassed by Victor Valdes in 2011.

In another sign of the Dutch influence around the club at the time, Johan Neeskens joined compatriot Cruyff, and it was only once he was moved to the midfield that Cules really took to him and treated him as one of their own.

Charly Rexach, who would later become instrumental in the signing of Lionel Messi, enjoyed a mixed career at Barcelona.

His good days certainly outweighed the bad and man-of-the-match in the 1978 Copa del Rey final with two goals to boot was as good as it got.


Barcelona 1980s XI
Barcelona 1980s XIjasonpettigrove

One of the most sensational football stories of the 1980s, perhaps ever, was the kidnap of Barca striker Quini.

After a 6-0 demolition of Hercules on March 1, 1981, Quini was captured at gunpoint and held for 25 days.

Eventually released unharmed, the striker went on to score two goals against previous employers Sporting Gijon in the Copa del Rey Final and secure the cup for Barca.

Unfortunately for him, and Barca, the league was beyond them.

Coasting toward the title before his capture, the Blaugrana could only manage a single draw and three losses during his absence.

Bernd Schuster in particular was very affected by the situation and, as noted by Gemma Simolo of Inside Spanish Football, he was adamant he would not play in matches until Quini's safe return.

PFEIL/Associated Press

Difficult to manage and something of a maverick, Schuster was prickly and argumentative. 

His combative nature extended to his own dressing room and a falling out with a succession of managers wasn't unexpected.

For all his faults however, Schuster remained a fantastic competitor and brilliant footballer, often single-handedly dragging Barca through a game.

63 goals from central midfield speaks volumes for a player who should be remembered as one of the best captains of the club.

Alongside Quini is the player dubbed "Archigols" by an adoring Camp Nou faithful.

Steve Archibald was signed from Tottenham Hotspur by then Barca manager Terry Venables and 15 goals in his debut season were a chief reason why Barca won their first La Liga title in 11 years. 

Steve "Archigols" Archibald helped Barca to their first La Liga triumph in 11 years
Steve "Archigols" Archibald helped Barca to their first La Liga triumph in 11 yearsGetty Images/Getty Images

Injuries curtailed his progress and by the time he reached peak fitness again some 18 months later, UEFA had introduced rulings on the amount of foreign players in a side. Venables had since signed Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes, so Archibald's time at the club eventually petered out. 

One of Barca's most successful and well-loved midfielders was Jose Maria Bakero, who joined Barca from Real Sociedad towards the end of the decade in 1988. 

He was immediately taken to by the supporters who enjoyed his non-stop work ethic and ability to score important goals from midfield. 

His most important contribution wouldn't come until the early 1990s, however, a last gasp goal against Kaiserslautern in the European Cup, allowing the club to continue on the path that would end with success at Wembley. 

Alexanko too, was the captain of the so called "Dream Team" and had the honour of lifting Barca's first ever European Cup in 1992.

By that stage he was 36 years old and had enjoyed a glorious Barcelona career stretching right through the decade after his transfer from Athletic Bilbao in 1980. FCBarcelona.com noted:

He was the typical central defender who transmitted calm to the rest of the team with his intelligent and elegant style of play. 

His team-mates began to look to him for leadership and he quickly became team captain.  

Gerardo, Sergi and Miguel Soler complete the defensive line up, the latter winning the European Cup Winners Cup in his first season with the club in 1988.

One of the players to best symbolise the La Masia academy system during the decade was Guillermo Amor. 

Latterly to become youth football director and "complete the circle," Amor started in the youth ranks in 1980 and still as a youth team player, replaced Diego Maradona on the day the Miniestadi (Barca B's stadium) was inaugurated, according to FCBarcelona.com.

The engine of the side eventually settled into a central defensive role but still got forward on occasion to great effect.

And so to Diego Armando Maradona.

Perhaps a controversial addition to a "best of" squad but how can one of the best players of all time be left off the list?

A hepatitis scare at the start of his career in Catalonia was ill-timed, but Maradona was soon into his stride and even had Madrid fans applauding one of his goals at the Santiago Bernabeu.

His short-lived Barca career would come to an end just a 18 months or so after his then world record capture, and the "Butcher of Bilbao" Andoni Goikoetxea would have much to do with it.

In September of 1983, Maradona's leg was broken in a vicious and deliberate act for which Goikoetxea would receive a 16-match ban. The Argentine noted, per goalsoul.net:

I hadn't seen him coming on the pitch or I would have dodged him as I had on so many other occasions with so many other kicks.

But I just felt the impact, heard the sound, like a piece of wood cracking, and realised immediately what had happened.

As fate would have it, the two were in opposition again towards the end of the season but what transpired in the 1984 Copa del Rey final effectively ended Maradona's Barca career.

Beaten 1-0 by the Basque's, Maradona went hunting for revenge after the final whistle, and the disgusting fight which followed was witnessed by the King and Spanish Royal family.

It wasn't too long after that the world's best player was shipped off to Napoli.

Every great team needs a great keeper and therefore Andoni Zubizareta completes the line up.

Signed for the equivalent of €1.7 million, then a record for a goalkeeper, "Zubi" was consistency personified, missing just four games in six years.


Barcelona 1990s XI
Barcelona 1990s XIjasonpettigrove

The "Dream Team" era.

Up until Pep Guardiola's sensational managerial reign, Johan Cruyff's masterful Barca side were considered the benchmark. Hence why a number of players from that side appear in this one.

But let's start with the record-breaking Ronaldo. No, not Cristiano but "O Fenomeno."

His single season in Catalonia (1996-97) was an unqualified success. 34 goals in 37 La Liga games won him the Pichichi Trophy, and there was no finer finish than that at Compostela:

Forty-seven goals in all competitions probably went some way to alleviating supporter ire at his move to Real Madrid, even though this came some years after, via an excursion to Inter Milan.

No such luxury was afforded Luis Figo.

Despite being an integral part of the Barca sides that won the European Cup Winners Cup and two La Liga titles in the late 90s, Figo was never forgiven for his defection to Los Blancos.

Who can forget the sight of a pigs head thrown at him upon his first return to Camp Nou whilst wearing the all white of Barca's hated rivals?

Guardiola's influence pervades throughout the club. From ball-boy to manager and every youth level in between. 

A trophy-laden career as a player was a tangible reward for his excellence throughout his tenure.

Phil Ball, in his book Morbo, perfectly describes how the man from Santpedor became the leader in Cruyff's all-conquering side:

In his first week at the club, Johan Cruyff turned up unannounced at the mini stadium, a venue just down the road from Camp Nou used by the youth and B teams.

Just before half-time he wandered into the dug-out and asked Charly Rexach, the youth team manager at the time, the name of the young lad playing on the right side of midfield.

'Guardiola – good lad' came the reply.

Cruyff ignored the comment and told Rexach to move him into the middle for the second half, to play as pivot.

It was a difficult position to adapt to and one not used by many teams in Spain at the time.

'Pep' Guardiola adjusted immediately, as Cruyff had suspected he would, and when he moved up into the first-team in 1990 he became the pivot of the Dream Team.

Pep's story is unique and it's easy to understand why he is considered the epitome of Barcelona.

"The Maradona of the Carpathians" was the nickname given to the extraordinarily gifted Gheorghe Hagi.

The Romanian signed for Barca after an excellent World Cup campaign in 1994 and his prior association with Real Madrid was never an issue for a player who lit up the football pitch in every game that he played.

In 1999, Michael Laudrup was voted the best foreigner to have ever played in La Liga. 

Michael Laudrup and Ronald Koeman celebrate Barca's Wembley triumph.
Michael Laudrup and Ronald Koeman celebrate Barca's Wembley triumph.David Cannon/Getty Images

A wonderful period of success was enjoyed by the Dane under Cruyff's tutelage but a falling out precipitated Laudrup's controversial move to Madrid.

He remains the only player to have won five successive La Liga titles with two different clubs.

Yet another foreigner, Hristo Stoichkov, remains a legend amongst Barca fans.

Despite his often controversial nature—he was banned for two months for stamping on a referee's foot in his first season—he terrorised opposition defences alongside Romario and always gave his all for the team.

Romario's 30 goals in 33 appearances was the chief reason why Barca won the 1993-94 La Liga title and his hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Real Madrid has gone down in Blaugrana folklore.

The Telegraph recall the comments of Manchester United's Steve Bruce after Barcelona beat them in the group stages of the 1994 Champions League:

Of all the great things that happened during my career, the thing that sticks out the most is that night because we got our backsides kicked big-style.

Stoichkov and Romario are still etched in my memory, especially Romario, who was arguably the best player I ever faced.

A back three of Ronald Koeman, Abelardo and Miguel Angel Nadal speak for themselves.

Tennis player Rafa Nadal's uncle, Miguel Angel was a fearsome warrior of a defender who excelled both at Barcelona and for the Spanish national side. 

He could play anywhere across the back four with no loss of standards. 

Abelardo was a mainstay during his time at the club and Koeman will forever be remembered for delivering the bullet that won Barca their first ever European Cup.

Zubizareta gets the nod in goal again, there was simply no one better at the time. Sergio Busquets' father Carles was only a back-up during his time at the club.


Barca 2000s XI
Barca 2000s XIjasonpettigrove

Although Rivaldo joined Barca in 1997, and enjoyed a stellar career, his influence was never more keenly felt than in the last match of the 2000-01 season.

Knowing a win was imperative for the Blaugrana to qualify for the following season's Champions League, Barca were still level with Valencia deep into the last minute.

The Brazilian with two goals to his name already, then completed his hat-trick with one of the finest bicycle kicks the stadium had ever seen.

TV pictures of the presidential box showed exactly what the goal meant to the club.

Alongside the Brazilian sits Barca's record-breaking Lionel Messi, a man who is redefining football on a weekly basis. 

Far too many column inches have already been devoted to why Messi is this generation's Pele, Maradona and Zidane. 

The following video adequately describes his genius better than words ever could:

Possibly the finest passer of the ball to have ever played the game sits nicely behind the front two.

Xavi Hernandez dictates the pace and flow of this side with his laser-guided ability to find his team mates, wherever they might pop up on the pitch.

Ronaldinho joined Barca in 2003 and his impact was immediate.

The club had been starved of silverware since 1999 but the Brazilian's influence brought a golden period back to Camp Nou. Victor Valdes, according to Ben Hayward of Goal.com (via Yahoo.com), noted:

He is the biggest talent I have seen in football.

The greatest.

Ronaldinho, when he arrived, changed the history of this club. 

In 2005-06 "Gaucho" was in his pomp.

A match-winning performance at the Santiago Bernabeu saw him receive the rarest of accolades, a standing ovation and applause from the Real Madrid faithful.

He would go on to define Barca's charge towards Champions League glory over Arsenal in Paris and a stack of personal awards naturally followed.

The adulation and success perhaps went to his head and the Brazilian was undone by a lack of focus and loss of form which contributed to a swift departure following Guardiola's appointment as first team manager.

Such a dramatic fall from grace should in no way detract from his contribution to the club however.

"El Illusionista" Andres Iniesta is another easy pick for this side. The diminutive midfielder does things with a football that practically defy belief.

Let's satisfy ourselves with his contribution at Stamford Bridge in 2009. The Catalan commentator got quite excited:

As did the fans in the stadium. 

Initially signed on loan, Giovanni van Bronckhorst was the archetypal attacking left-back and the only Barca player to participate in all of their Champions League matches in 2006.

Victory over his old employers Arsenal must've been bittersweet for the the Dutchman.

On the opposite flank we find the energetic and effervescent Dani Alves. Has there ever been a fitter player at Barcelona?!

Whether it's the first minute or last, you will always find Alves full of running. A tendency to concentrate on the more attacking parts of his role rather than the basics of defence can sometimes find him wanting, but there has been no finer right-back during the decade.

No one truly comes close to matching the Gerard Pique and Puyol partnership in central defence.

Can Carles Puyol ever truly be replaced?
Can Carles Puyol ever truly be replaced?Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

The elegant, lithe Pique alongside the warrior Puyol. Good cop, bad cop. The biggest compliment one can pay is that the Barca back four never felt quite the same with one missing.

How Barca set about replacing the shaggy-haired destroyer after his recent announcement, per the Spanish side's official website, that he will leave the club in June 2014 is anyone's guess. 

Another to leave the club this summer will be goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

A fixture between the posts since 2002, Valdes has earned his stripes in Blaugrana, a record-equalling five Zamora trophies putting him level with the legendary Ramallets.

He also holds the record for most minutes without conceding a goal in European competition at 466.

Last, but by no means least, is

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